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But even more significant is the fact that European imperial dominance of Asia in the colonial era was largely built upon British drug running from the opium fields of South Asia into China, where the drug trade had been legally suppressed for centuries until the East India Trade Company broke the back of the Chinese empire with military force to protect and expand its profitable opium trade.  Although Europeans might have long since forgotten this history, such humiliation remains a vivid part of Chinese education.  There was no way that a Briton would not be executed for this in an internationally resurgent China, given the chance to do so.

Bingo.  While I'm the last person to defend the Chinese government on its human rights record, this should all be placed into context.

Several things stick out here.

(1) The condemned is British.

(2) The condemned was smuggling drugs.

(3) The British are essentially asking that their nationals be exempted from prosecution under Chinese law.

If you no anything about the Opium Wars, you know that in the middle of the 19th century, the British forced open trade with China by means of a war that humiliated the Chinese.  The reason for the war?

The Chinese caught the British East India Company smuggling opium, the base ingredient for heroin, into southern China.  This was one of the few items that the British were able to successfully sell in China so that they could by silk, porcelain, and other luxury items.  What started the first war, was that when the Chinese tried to force British traders that they would not smuggle opium into the country on pain of death.  The British asked that their community be granted "extra-territoriality" so that they would be tried according to British, not Chinese law.

Think about that historical context, and remember that the Opium Wars have the same type of weight in the Chinese national memory that the battle of Kosovo has in the Serbian national mind.  

This guy was a British national, caught smuggling heroin into the country, and the Brits essentially asked that he be granted extra-territoriality. Can you see the narrative that can be spun for domestic consumption here?  It doesn't make it right, it just makes it virtually impossible for for the Chinese government to not execute this guy even if they don't want to.  If they don't apply the death penalty, they'd have major nationalist protests in the streets.  And the current Chinese leadership is extremely scared that they are going to lose control of the country because what they call "mass incidents" e.g. riots have been on the rise.    

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Tue Dec 29th, 2009 at 04:53:34 PM EST
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It doesn't make it right, it just makes it virtually impossible for for the Chinese government to not execute this guy even if they don't want to.

This being the case to only scenario where they could commute the sentence could be if there had been a bigger diplomatic question at stake where the UK/EU had humbly bent its neck, apologized and conceded that China is here - as in general - always right. Then China could have commuted the sentence (to life.time of hard labor or something) from a position of strength. As a gesture of good will towards an unwashed westerner who has not had the benefit of a Chinese upbringing.

I can not be bothered to figure out the particular details of such a scenario as neither a UK nor an EU government would be willing to be humiliated by China on the public scene to save the life of an insane drug-runner.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Tue Dec 29th, 2009 at 06:11:54 PM EST
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